At just 24 years old, George Timotheou has already had a football career anyone could be proud of and has overcome some of life’s greatest obstacles getting there.

The Adelaide United defender signed on with the A-League team in November, but had been trekking the globe with his career before returning home.

“I started playing with Gungahlin United in Canberra for 10 years. I was there for all my juniors. Then I started getting into the ACT Academy of sport and the state teams. Then I got the opportunity to go to the AIS, and I was there for two years. From there I went to Sydney FC, and I was in the youth setup there for around a year and a half, then into the first team from there. Afterwards I went overseas to Germany, that’s when I was with Schalke for around a year and then went to Belgium to play,” Timotheou told Neos Kosmos. 

His overseas stint was cut a little shorter than what he would have liked due to a congenital heart disease that required surgery.

“It’s kind of one of those conditions where you can play your whole career and you can live your whole life without it actually being a problem. So it’s just a case of monitoring it, but in some situations, and in my situation it got to quite a severe point where, at such a young age I never thought it would happen. I thought maybe it would happen in my mid 30s or late 30s when I’m finishing football and not in my early 20s needing to have surgery,” Timotheou said.

“Luckily enough I got a good surgeon and was able to continue playing. It was a pretty short layoff considering the heart is the main ticker, so you could be off for a long time off kind or forever. I was lucky that I was only out for less than a year.”

Now, better than ever, and with his own established family by his side, the 24-year-old is kicking his own life’s goals.

Timotheou talks his Bundesliga highlights, the importance of hard work and establishing himself at Adelaide United.

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George Timotheou joined Adelaide United in November 2020 Photo: Courtesy Adelaide United

What drew you to football?

It was probably my father to be honest. I started playing when I was about three years old. He was a coach back then. He was very family orientated and he was the coach of the juniors at the local club. I think he thought it was a good way to be involved in a team sport, and obviously he played and loved it and loved coaching, so it was kind of an easy transition and I just fell in love with the sport straight away.

I loved being in a team environment, playing in a team and just having fun basically with friends at the start. Then as the years went by and things got a bit more serious, but that’s how that’s how it all started.

It’s game day, what do you do to get in the zone before the match?

I’m pretty specific when it comes to game day, whether it’s a home or away game I like to stick to a schedule. Obviously when it’s a home game, it’s a bit different because I can stick to it a bit more strictly, but at the  away games I still kind of stick to that schedule.

At a normal home game I would just wake up and go out for coffee with my partner and my son. That would be around mid-morning, then I’m off to the beach, go for a walk, go home, get some groceries along the way and then around lunchtime I would just have the same pasta that I have every game day.

It’s a special kind of ricotta pasta that my partner makes that I love and it’s kind of tradition now that I do it every game day. Then I usually have a nap in the afternoon before the game and I start getting ready and then on the way to the game I normally have a Red Bull and a Mars Bar and then in the change room I’m doing  just little things that help me switch on.

I watch some videos of my idols to help me switch on and it’s basically about getting onto the field. In the warm up I’m pretty switched on so that I’m ready to go out for the game. That’s a pretty typical game day. It’s pretty different to every other day because it’s a very special day of the week. You have to get the job done, so I take it very seriously.

Top three training songs?

That’s a hard one because normally I’m not the DJ, but I like to listen to a lot of like Chris Brown, Drake, a lot of RnB. Any songs that that they’re involved in, usually listen to them. But I’m not too specific when it comes to gym and and training, I just like to have good vibes. Just nothing crazy and too out there like techno.

What do you find most challenging about the game?

For me as a central defender it’s my duties. I worry about my own performance, but at the end of the day, I’m one of the pillars at the back, so I have to communicate with the boys in front of me and then also listen to the goalkeeper behind.

The most challenging thing for me is probably when I make a mistake or when I’m having a five minute bad patch, it’s about not letting it turn into a 10 minute patch, or  letting it affect my communication with the other players because I still have a duty to lead from the back and be that presence at the back. I can’t really let me negativity or the bad patch or lack of communication get in the way of the team because it’s an important part of our team now.

What has been a highlight in your sporting career thus far?

Probably my Bundesliga debut, that’s the one that sticks out the most. I wouldn’t say it was the pinnacle of my career, but it’s up there. I got to mark World Cup winning striker Mario Gomez. He’s a legend of the game, went to so many World Cups with Germany, played with Bayern Munich, played at the highest level for so many years. And I had to mark him and we went on to have a nil all draw.

I think it was just the journey in the lead up to that. I’d been working so hard for years and years and then to to get that kind of reward.  You never say in your mind, ‘Okay I’m going to play in the Bundesliga’, you obviously say ‘I want to play at the highest level, but you just don’t know what that could mean, but for me it meant  to get that move to Schalke and then work my way up through the ranks and the youth team. I played well in the youth team and then started training with the first time and impressed there, so I got my chance with with the first team there.

That was that was really rewarding, just to step on the pitch and play in front of 60, 65 thousand fans at the Veltins Arena and doing a good tackle and hearing basically the whole stadium clapping for you, that’s such a surreal moment. It was such an honour and was definitely the highlight of my career so far.

George Timotheou is hoping to expand his family in the near future, to give his little son a sibling Photo: Courtesy Adelaide United

How has football impacted your life?

It’s impacted it a lot actually because it’s just given me a different perspective. Having a heart surgery and then becoming a father and seeing the different kind of industry that I’m in. Football has unbelievable highs, but it also has quite the lows as well.

Starting off at three years old, you don’t think you’re going to play in the Bundesliga. You don’t really think about that.
You just think about playing with friends and going to school and having fun and going to McDonald’s and just being a kid basically. It wasn’t until later where it started getting serious and I started asking those questions of how has this affected my life? How will it affect it? How important is it?

I think it’s a massive responsibility that I carry because it’s not just a passion anymore, it’s my job. And it’s turned into a job because I have a family to provide for now, I have to look after myself because with my heart and my health, it’s a massive balance between you need your passion, your dreams, your home life and then also your health. It’s definitely impacted my life more than I ever thought it would because I obviously hoped that I would never have gone through the ordeal with my heart and injuries and the lows of football, but I guess it just opens your eyes to see what is out there and it prepares you a little bit better for other life situations. For example, if I see my son sick it’s the worst feeling in the world, I think it better prepares
you for that because we do experience a lot of lows in football, but the highs are amazing too, like winning championships.

What is something you learned about yourself through playing the game?

Probably that self belief and self love is very important. Not having any fear and playing to your strengths plays a massive part. I think if you really believe in yourself and you look at yourself in the mirror and you work hard and you put in the extras, you can truly like achieve what you want. And I think I realised that after I left Sydney FC. I was down in the dumps, and not that I thought my career was over but I had gone from such a massive club to how am I going to get out of this situation.

I think that’s where my mentality change and I kind of valued how much hard work helped me and how rewarding it was and even now, for example, after the heart surgery I’ve had to work like 10 times harder than anyone because I basically lost 11 months of my life and football and fitness. I just wasn’t able to run or train or do anything so I think hard work always wins.

What do you hope to achieve in the next year?

I would love to play as many games as possible with Adelaide this season and get back to playing my best football and getting back to full fitness and just being a starting player again. Last year was a bit of a transition period.

I really want to help the team try to be the best team possible. We can do better than we did last year. We did pretty well to get into the semi final but I think we can definitely go further this year if we stick together. Personally, I think that’s the biggest thing, because if I’m playing well for my club then the other things can come such as moves overseas or joining the national team.

We’d also love to be in a situation where we can try for another baby, and have baby number two on the way and get that other part of our life going again. My son would definitely love another sibling. He’s getting a bit bored with us.

What’s something someone might be surprised to learn about you?

I’m a very big guy and maybe I’m kind of like scary looking at like first glance or people have kind of the wrong perception of me. I think footballers have this kind of persona and perception about them, about how they’re not very good people and I just think if people get to know me, I’m quite nice and I’m very down to earth. Some people think that they can’t have a conversation with me or I’m very scary to talk to you, but like I loved when we had the chance to go out and do promotion, activities with the kids and like clubs visits. I love that and I love like being around kids.

Favourite way to unwind after a game?

I actually can’t unwind after games. I don’t know what it is. I spoke to the sport scientists and coaches somewhat agree and that it’s just something that happens. I think it’s an adrenaline thing or part of your muscles just can’t switch off. After every game that I played, especially when I played a good part in the game I couldn’t sleep. I struggled to unwind, I struggle to sleep. I feel even when I’m watching a movie or I’m at home or I’m saying PlayStation, my muscles just don’t switch off.

I can’t stop playing the game. I’m still kind of in that moment. After a game though I do like to have a cheat meal whether it’s going out for pizza or getting takeout at home and just relax with my family.

What are you most looking forward to in 2022?

I think personally it would be to win the FFA Cup. I think that’s a massive goal of the club, but I think it would be a great achievement to be a starting player in a team where there’s silverware on the line. The FFA Cup would finish a lot quicker than the A-League season. Adelaide’s got a rich history of winning the Cup.

We started off well getting our first win, so I would love to play a big part in that team and to win the first piece of silverware with Adelaide would be amazing.

What is something you want to be remembered by?

I definitely want to be an idol to the younger generation and be remembered as a gentleman on the pitch and off the pitch.
I would love past teammates to speak about me in high regard whether it’s about being the hardest worker or just a generally nice person around the club.

I think that’s the best thing that can be said about you. And I guess at the end of the day, a winner too. Everyone remembers the winners and the great players.